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Democrats re-take Colorado statehouse

DENVER — Democrats have won back a majority in the Colorado state House of Representatives, FOX31 Denver was first to project Tuesday night.

The victory paves the way for the first openly gay Speaker of the House — Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, will be officially elected by his caucus on Thursday morning.

Republicans, clinging to a 33-32 majority, fought challenging numbers in nearly all of the tightly contested House seats.

Early and absentee returns in Jefferson County show that Democrats are leading in all of the targeted districts: House District 28, where Democrat Brittany Petterson is leading Republican Amy Attwood; House District 29, where Tracy Kraft-Tharp is leading incumbent Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster; House District 23, where incumbent Rep. Max Tyler, D-Golden, leads GOP challenger Rick Enstrom.

In El Paso County, Democrat Rep. Pete Lee leads Jennifer George in House District 18; and in House District 17, Democratic challenger Tony Exum leads GOP Rep. Mark Barker.

And in the southwest corner of the state, Democrat Mike McLaughlin leads incumbent Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Durango.

Former state Rep. Rob Witwer, a Republican from Evergreen who served this year on the Colorado Reapportionment Commission that re-drew state House and Senate districts, tells FOX31 Denver that the writing is already on the wall.

“Although results are still coming in, it looks like Democrats will take control of the state House,” Witwer said. “In the second half of his first term, Gov. John Hickenlooper will likely be working with two Democrat-led chambers.

“Without a Republican check, he will be in the difficult position of having to confront a decidedly more liberal legislative agenda.”

More immediately, come Thursday morning, when House Democrats vote to elect leadership, Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, is a lock to become the next Speaker of the House, and the first openly gay Coloradan to ever hold the position.

With Democrats looking good to retain their majority in the state Senate, where Sen. Pat Steadman may be elected Senate President on Thursday, civil unions legislation, sponsored the last two years by Ferrandino and Steadman, who is also openly gay, and defeated by Republicans, is certain to pass early in the 2013 legislative session.